29 September 2014

#FLIPCLASS Tip: Organize Your Videos by Standardizing Links

I've written previously about organizing your videos per unit or chapter in a playlist, and of course, you can send out your videos via Remind, post them on Edmodo, have kids subscribe to your Youtube channel, or host them on your own website, but here's one more idea (that I think is more user-friendly if you're keeping accountability via kids notebooks instead of online).

Use a link shortening app or website like Bitly, customize the shortened links to your name and objectives, and follow the same pattern for all of your videos. Aligning your links' names to objectives or standards already listed in your syllabus will help students and parents match up which video goes with what needs more work or is to be made up.

Here's what I mean - I have a shared syllabus with 3 other teachers in my department for our Algebra 1b course.

Rather than simply posting my videos to Youtube and then sharing out a long, randomized link, or even YouTube's shortened version, I take each url and shorten to bitly.com/baker_starks_**, where the end of the link is a number that corresponds to the standards listed in that image above. So, if you go to bitly.com/baker_starks_5, you get my video on the Distributive Property.

But if you're posting the link on Edmodo and Remind, what does it matter that you've shortened it?

Good question, reader. Do you students ever tell you they "lost the text from Remind" or "couldn't login to Edmodo?" Following a standardized name for your links gives you another defense and the student another chance to get their notes done because if they remember the suffix you always include, they can make some guesses as to the ending.

Why not just name the videos as the standards are worded on your syllabus?

Bitly links must be unique, so only one person in the world can "own" the link to something like bitly.com/orderofoperations. You might be able to sneak in some, but I'd bet at some point you're going to run into a naming issue and have to deviate slightly from the way it was written on your syllabus. Then you've made it HARDER to find that video, instead of easier.

23 September 2014

Have You Heard of "Twice Exceptional" Students?

I read this account (via Quartzof a NYC public school student who is exceptionally gifted intellectually, but (in part because of his intellect), was really struggling with attention on class, interacting with and understanding his peers emotionally, and otherwise doing "school" activities. Ordinarily, these behaviors would sound alarm as a child probably in need of an IEP and special accommodations, but because of his strengths elsewhere, the necessity for services and supports are either masked or compensated for by the student, or ignored by his teachers.

This boy's experience was a representative anecdote for what educational psychologists are calling "twice exceptional" children - children who may be traditionally "gifted" in one area, but in desparate need for interventions and supports in areas of the school environment. (Special Ed Manual from Idaho Dept of Education) This boy's story went on to recount bullying the boy ended up enduring even in a "gifted" classroom and a general dislike and failure of school. He had taught himself to read before he was 4, but was regressing in a classroom setting he struggled to adapt to and cope with.
Do you have any students like this?
Have you ever assumed that a bright student must also work well and lead in a group setting? If you've seen the Steve Jobs biopic or are familiar with his story, you've experienced this fallacy)
Have you ever been surprised that a student on your IEP list in a co-taught special ed classroom might be need the most support emotionally or behaviorally, but ALSO be the most gifted intellectually? (That IEP stigma can stick hard, can't it?)
Do you ever find yourself giving "gifted" students a free pass on other aspects of learning and growth? 

Thinking through my own experience working with these students (and maybe even reflecting on myself as a student), let me share with you some tips for supporting the needs of "twice exceptional" students and engaging them in your classroom.

1. Don't assume that your "smart" or "honors" students must also have the best behavior.
Honors students may need your PBIS measures and expectations reminders, too.
If you're struggling with a student's behavior, you may be particularly frustrated that he or she isn't being a "leader" for the others. Thy may really WANT to be "good," but be unable to for some reason (and this probably frustrates the student, too.)

2. Focus on educating the WHOLE student. 
Kids that are exceptionally gifted in one subject math give up or accept that others are (and will always be) weaknesses. As the student stresses one and ignores the other, the divide between strength and weakness will only widen. Find nuggets a student can mine and go further. If you really believe that your students should be life-long learners, then no matter how bright your student may be he or she STILL has things to learn - things to learn from YOU.

3. Have a conference with parents early I'm about ways they would like to see their child receive extra support or be challenged to improve. 
Whether or not they can EXPRESS it in edu-speak, they have goals for their child's interventions. One of the most shocked/delighted reactions I can remember at parent-teacher conferences was when I told the parents of a student with a 36 on the math portions of the ACT that I was really wanting to work on his writing and communication of all the math he could perform operationally. 

4. Let the genius/crazy happen as it wants to.
Resist the urge to fit your twice exceptional students into whatever mold you want to see them in as "successful." If they're introverted, don't force group work on them. (But find ways to force interactions on them in more digestible nuggets). If your student has noise or sound sensitivities, be prepared to adapt your lecture/lesson to that student being able to isolate themselves when they're overwhelmed, but still continue learning activities. Give a student's work time to bloom and come to a full realization before you shoot it down. I've dismissed several "bad" drawings from my 4year old in this manner that after I listened to her explain it, I saw her reasoning and artistry more clearly.

5. Be proactive in your support. 
Conference ithat he student and acknowledge that you understand and are aware of their needs, but also that you have a plan of x, y, z for them as a student in your classroom and in your subject. Engage them in that journey.

18 September 2014

On Being An Expert

Think about anything you consider yourself an "expert" in - a skill related to your profession, a hobby, a category of trivia or knowledge. How did you become an "expert?" You probably have a certain acumen for learning new things related to your area of expertise, but ultimately, it came down to a decision you made at some point to seek and find knowledge about a topic. And then to do it again and again and again.

Talent is something you are more or less born with. Expertise is nurtured, coddled, and deliberately tended to so it will grow. You may have few talents, but anyone can develop expertise. It's a numbers and perseverance game.

That said, my district is in up to our knees in a software transition for every major information system we use. Every employee in the district is in effect relearning how to do their job this semester. Through a little bit of formal professional development and a whole lot more informal and self-directed, I've become the go-to guy for SIS tutorials, questions, and gripes.

The switch is affecting our students and families, too, because we don't have their access to online grades and attendance unlocked yet, so the school newspaper is working on a piece about it. I was approached by a student-reporter today for some quotes about SIS. 

I spent a lot of time crafting these responses, and I like 'em, so I decided to post them here, too. :)

STARGAZER: If you know, why was there a change from Edline to Tyler?

CHUCK BAKER: The way that SIS can manage and integrate the data we generate in our gradebooks and attendance with your student records is a leap from Edline. Our attendance software was from the 80s, our gradebook from the 90s... Data is KING in the 21st century, and SIS is going to make how we manage, manipulate and analyze our student data much easier.

SG: How will the affect students and their ability to view their grades easily like they did with Edline, and will students be able to access grades on Tyler like they did with Edline -- if yes, when?

CB: Right now, teachers must give students and parents print-outs or post grades on the wall of the classroom, which is what a teacher with more than 6 or 7 years of experience used to have to do anyway because it was the ONLY option. You know how things are a little bit sucky when an app is in beta? We're in beta with our SIS implementation still.The plan according to the district technology department is to open the student/parent portal (your side or SIS) for 2nd semester, but there's a chance it could be sooner.

Some elementary teachers were using NO form of electronic gradebook, so putting everything into SIS is a HUGE leap for them. We have to wait until the majority of teachers in the whole district have the gradebook figured out.

SG: Will there be any long-lasting affect of this switch during the current school year, if yes what will they be?

CB: I don't think you'll notice any long-lasting effects of this switch during the current year from the your teachers. The grade level offices are able to check attendance and discipline much quicker now, so they might be able to be more proactive in addressing patterns of absence or behavior before they are too late to fix. I think we might see more differences next year, when much more of the staff is very comfortable with the system.

SG: Have students complained to you about their inability to easily view their grades?

CB: My AP Stats students (my seniors) complained on like, the 2nd day of school, but my other students have been cool with the printouts I've been giving them. From my experience, giving students a piece of paper is sometimes more effective in focusing their attention away from the Snaps and notifications bombarding their devices. I find it in myself, too. I often will open my laptop or grab my iPad to do some actual work, but I get lost in social media or crushin' candy - if I need to leave the distraction of iPad, I do the work on paper first.

SG: What will be noticeably different from Edline?

CB: My favorite noticeable difference for students and parents to look forward to once your side of SIS is unlocked is that there will be much more information available to you in once place. Besides just grades, attendance will also be readily accessible, and teachers will be able to post any extra directions or links to web and/or multimedia content for a lesson right on the listing on the grade report. You would not have to specially ask for such and such handout that you need to complete missing or make-up work, or to find the link to your math teacher's video lesson.

SG: If you could chose a few of the positive affects of implementing this system, what would they be? The negatives?


  1. The parent/student side of SIS looks more user-friendly than the reports Edline gave you, and I like the idea of being able to provide lesson resources right there instead of uploading them to a different site that you have to access separately.
  2. Our various data sources integrate more easily - student attendance or behavior patterns can be caught, monitored, and addressed before they become larger problems.

  1. Online grades being inaccessible for now
  2. CHANGE. A lot of people really hate change, man.

14 September 2014

"Good" Use of Education Technology

What makes for "good use" of a computer lab, laptop, or tablet cart?

The prevailing pedagogy for "21st century" or "rigorous and relevant" learning would say the ideal involves students engaged in some relevant, collaborative inquiry-based project, or simulating/investigating a model not otherwise possible or enriched by software/the web.

But what about other times?

Is standardized testing good use?
Is practice-testing for computer based standardized testing good use?
Is content-related gaming good use?
Is word processing good use?
Is watching tutorial/flipped classroom videos good use?
Are drill and kill practice websites good use?

The answers to all of these questions depends on the current situation in your building and the current needs of your students. Clearly, if all of your students have access to computers and a lot of bandwidth at home, using  the lab for students to finish projects or watch videos may not be a good  use. However, if you're choosing between students turning in 1970s-era projects or giving kids access to create polished, media-rich projects at school, the best use of resources is to have kids create in the lab.

Bottom line, the best use of school technology resources is to USE THEM. Once we're fighting everyday for access to the lab or carts then we'll be more selective and demanding of the way they are used. 

11 September 2014

Declaring Racism "Over" Misses the Point for Students

My wife recently reshared this video from +FCKH8 on Facebook featuring children and teens from #Ferguson on the subject of racism and white privilege.

I actually didn't watch it until another friend had commented on the sharing from "Young Conservatives," who criticized the video for playing the race card, hypocritical claims, blame-shifting, and opportunistically "only" giving nearly 40% of the cost of the t-shirts they were selling to an organization fighting racism.

One of the most common reactions to "stop being racist," that I've seen is the declaration, "I'm colorblind. I don't see race. I treat everyone equally." I guess I get the point - this is probably often said with the best of intentions, but I believe its ignorant and naive.

It doesn't matter if white (and/or majority) people want to declare racism dead, if black (and/or other minority) people still believe they're experiencing racism. The best (because it was the hardest) lesson I've learned in my eight years of marriage is that the intentions or rationality of your actions and words matter less to someone else than your tone and the way they perceive your actions and words. "Perception is reality," my wife would calmly remind me later, after the hurt had subsided.

To say to your students that the color of their skin (and their experience in that skin) doesn't matter to you or isn't at least a consideration in the way you build relationships or consider relevance for your lessons is to belittle a part of their identity.

If your students identify with Mike Brown because he looks like them, then they identify with his story, too. You don't have to understand it, you just have to feel it. Listen to it. Let it happen.
This rings true across ethnicities. One of the least culturally responsive things I've done in the classroom occurred my 2nd year in summer school. I had about a dozen kids in an Algebra 1 class, I think consisting of all but one being African-American. Something I was proud of in that summer course was figuring out how effective making my kids take brain breaks could be. If the kids spent a good chunk of time on-task, they would get to nominate a song to be played while they did NO math for the duration. My white student was kind of disconnected from the school community in general, but the day I finally saw him feel a part of that class was on one of the last days of the session, when I forced a nomination out of him and we listened to some of his music. It happened to be "white" music (AC/DC), but the point was that in the name of being culturally responsive to the majority of the class, I burned the minority. Treating every student the same will always leave some students disconnected relationally. I never asked him directly, but even from observing his kid's demeanor, I could tell that his perception was that who he was didn't fit in with that classroom most of the summer.

Here's what I think you have to understand if you feel offended by this video - as long as some of your students perceive that the educational (and real world) experience will be different for them because of their race, you have a responsibility to at least acknowledge that racism might still be "a thing."

02 September 2014

You Should Sponsor the School Store (and Other Cockamamy Ideas)

"How come we don't have a school store, Mr. Baker?"
A senior came into class this morning, frustrated that she needed a notebook or something, yet legitimately had not been able to get it.

This was it - my chance to shut her down and focus on performing rotations on 2-dimensional shapes in the coordinate plane, or to grab this and run with it.
"That's a good question. I don't know. You should propose it to Dr. Hopper." I believe our building principal has a soft-spot for student-led initiatives, so I knew that a passionate plea, supported by a thoughtful written proposal had a shot.

"Hey, everyone," I got the class's attention. "Elle is proposing that we start up a school store, and we're looking for people to help with the proposal. Who's in?" A couple hands shot up, but they didn't know what they were actually volunteering for, so we settled on just one other student.

I spent the next couple minutes sharing our principal's contact info and outlining/facilitating aspects she would need to consider for their proposal. We got it to a "this baby is yours now; run with it" place, and resumed class, but I fully intend to return to this proposal if/whenever it comes up again.

"Tell Dr. Hopper, I will sponsor you," I told the school-store team. (Which sounds crazy for a father of 3 that's already on 3 committees and mentoring a first-year teacher). But I meant it. And not because I think they won't follow through.

We ache and plea for chances to inject "relevant" work into our math classes, and time to develop "real-world" problems to include in our unit instructional plans, but how often do we ignore the opportunities right in front of us because they might fail?
What would your students come up with?
Maybe the school store isn't going to be your students' idea, but I think this list applies to most ideas your students might need help getting off the ground. When you agree to come alongside a student-led initiative and mentor the process you're sowing a bountiful harvest of "teachable moments" and "relevance." Even if the school store idea doesn't go any further than writing the proposal, look what I'll already have the opportunity to model for my students:

  • Professional, formal writing
  • Organizational planning
  • Digital media creation
  • Collaboration
  • Budgeting
  • Problem solving (and anticipating new problems)
  • Figuring out what math fits into a given scenario and how it can support our case or help in another step of our plan
  • Revision/Draft process of writing

I have a motto for myself this year, and I made a sign that is taped outside my door: "I am an ally." A friend asked me last week what it meant, what was I fighting against. I told her, "I'm fighting for kids who need someone to care for them. Kids who need someone to listen. Kids who need an advocate. Kids who need someone to stand with them. I think its going to mean different things to different kids. I don't even have to agree with them all the time (USA and USSR in World War II, anyone?)."
I have no idea where this ally gig is going to lead the rest of this year, and no one else has even asked me about the sign, but if for no one else, I know, for MYSELF, that I committing to supporting cockamamy ideas as much as I have capacity for.

01 September 2014

How Your Classroom Is Like Fantasy Football

The wife and I sat down for a fantasy football draft with her family last night, so it got me thinking today about how the process of building and managing your team is similar to how you plan, design, and manage your classroom.

Just like the first day of school, you spend a ton of time planning for draft day. You take tips from other managers (teachers), you set the tone for your season (the school year), and just like that, its over. I had a conversation in our office a couple weeks ago about being beyond-prepared for the first day, but feeling at a loss for what to do the second day. After draft day, there's still work to do (the most important work.

Championships (and high-achieving classrooms) aren't won on draft day, but the journey is certainly begun.

Busts, sleepers, consistent, and inconsistent - the same things that frustrate you about the performance of your fantasy team leave you sleepless about your students.

Anyone else here? I'll have students that the first couple of weeks of the semester seem to really impress me and I expect big things from them. As the page on the 1st quarter turns, their performance starts to go sour, and you're lost on where things went wrong.

No, not kids with their heads down. These students are the ones that weren't as successful in someone else's class, or don't look the part, but end up having a great year in your class and become your go-to choice for performance.

"Livin' on Last Year": 
Think about the player with a huge numbers from last year that suddenly jumps up your board on draft day. It doesn't totally seem right, but you're swayed by those numbers from last year. Most of the time, this choice goes sour for me.

It doesn't matter when you need kids to factor quadratics or critique an argument that they "always get As and Bs."

"Steady Eddie":
Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Trent Dilfer. These guys don't usually blow you away with their stats, but they don't often tank, either. He's the middle rounds running back or receiver that you plan to depend on, but would be willing to trade if the deal were right.

Some of your students just get by, doing the right thing, studying as hard as they can, and doing what they can. They might not make get an A, but sometimes these guys still win Super Bowls.

The structure and rules of a league also mirror the structure of your classroom or school. Until we figure out how to individualize EVERYONE'S path in public education, there will be students who win, and some who lose in the way our schools are structured. This paradigm limits the "draft value" of some of our students while inflating others.

Draft Day Guy:
This manager comes for the party on draft night, and sets their roster the first couple weeks, but as the baseball playoffs come along or the team starts losing, this manager checks out.

Sadly, the longer the school year goes on, the harder it gets to believe in your own idealism. The cure for this in fantasy sports is to win. In the classroom, it means you have to do cool stuff in your classroom and leave room for your students to innovate. 

Waiver-wire Magician:
I've been in a couple leagues over the years in which at least one of the teams in the championship looks nothing like what that manager drafted in August. This manager consistently find gems on the waiver wire and gets big games out of that player that make a difference.

We've all known the teacher (and hopefully its also yourself) that can get the most out of anyone when few others can.

You're in for the long haul this year. You've probably already held your "draft," but you're also still figuring out what you've really got on your team. Pour over your point projections (formative assessment), set your lineups, and go win your league this year.